Honest Critiques

No, I mean it. REAL honest. Email your excerpts or full stories, up to 1000 words or so, to honestcrits [at] yahoo [dot] co [dot] uk. Synopses would also be welcome. My backlog is so daunting now that I recommend not submitting anything you are not prepared to wait a couple of months for a response on.
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  • Monday, August 22, 2005

    Weightless

    A short story from Jess called "Weightless"

    I think about going to the Y.M.C.A. and swimming laps, lots of laps; at least enough laps to reduce the size of my ass and thighs and flappy underarms. The idea to exercise came to birth on a day I sat down on my couch. I'd brought my laptop from the office, prepared to do a bit of work and as I set it on my lap, the keyboard was gobbled up by the overlap of my gut. The day was filled with a stunning uneasiness of the inevitability that I would surely have to lose a grave amount of weight.

    I visualized driving there, which is always of little consequence: jeans, T-shirt, a button-down, long sleeve shirt, sweater, black military boots, a jacket, a big jacket, a baseball hat, a raspberry jelly filled donut, a cup of hot coffee with cream and three sugars, and a lit cigarette. I steer the car along the well known path to the gym with my knees, maneuvering coffee, donut and cigarette from hand to hand while I negotiate the shifter. As I park the car and turn off the engine, I lean back against the head rest, closing my eyes. A sense of fear fills my lungs as I inhale the last puff of my cigarette and flick it out the window. Today, I believe, is about as good a day as any to start.


    This is going to be a story that's pretty much a stream of consciousness. Detailed, immediate description is a big part of it. It's not quite down at the level of a Nicholson Baker piece, but that?s the way Jess is going.

    I'm seeing too many modifiers and the odd unhappy phrase. For example, "a stunning uneasiness of the inevitability that I would surely have to lose a grave amount of weight" is wordy and unclear (can uneasiness be stunning, and what does "uneasiness of inevitability" mean? "A sense of fear fills my lungs" is another odd image that doesn't quite work.

    This sort of thing is scattered all the way through. I quite like the image of the narrator's little duffel bag bobbing along obediently behind her, but then you get this: "I am weary, weary of the looks I will encounter... soon enough, I will begin the fretful journey back downstairs to the swimming pool." The melodrama of this sort of language may be intentional, but it seems to sit uneasily with the overall tone of the piece, which describes in minute detail the ordeal of being hypersensitive about one's appearance in a very public place.

    Once I get downstairs, I open the squeaky metal green door to the pool area. Maybe someone will be sitting on the bleachers, maybe not, but the lifeguard will be there, watching as I make my way down the long stretch of beige tiled flooring. I can feel my heart beating as if I'm already there. I don't want to swim without the warmth and safety of the blanket I have covering my body. I'll be exposed for the person I really am; fat. I walk down the aisle, pretending not to care, counting the number of people in the pool. Every lane is taken which means I'll have to swim in a lane with someone. I mutter offensive words inside my head but convince myself I am worth the effort. I'll feel better about myself. I will. I know it, especially in a few months when my weight loss is noticeable and everyone is telling me how wonderful I look; and asking, however did you do it? It's so nice to see you! I think no one ever says that to me now, and for a second, I consider bypassing the entire pool concept because I don't want all of these people I've just imagined telling me how great I look. I'll take revenge and never lose weight. That'll show them! It's not about those people, I think, switching gears, or the people I'll meet when I'm thinner or who will like me because I have a nice body. It's about me, the way I will feel, and how much happier and healthier I will be. Yes, I nod, agreeing with myself.

    I take another step, closing in on the moment when I will have to discard the comforter and lower myself into the pool. Each step is agony. As I pass her, I smile at a lady sitting on the bleachers watching everyone swim with such ease, back and forth, back and forth, and urgently survey the pool to see if there is someone, anyone, bigger than me. Not today. I know that I will offer a great amount of comfort to someone. Ha! Look at her. Phew! I don't feel so bad. Yes, someone will say to herself, I am doing something right here. Maybe it's a poor projection on my part, another step, but I don't think so. People are always comparing themselves to others to feel better about their bodies, better about their lives. I'm one of those people, and I'm obese. I really hate the word obese.

    [...]

    I am afraid to be seen. I have the best bathing suit one could buy, and a horribly plump body. My thighs ooze out of the leg holes, my arms have stretch marks and dimples and flap with each swishing movement they make, and my boobs- I don't even want to think about those droopy things. The only parts of my body that I like are my hair, my eyes and eyebrows... and my calves. That's it. Those are the parts of me that I like. Everything else is covered with fat.

    So it's rather a mournful read. We're being asked to watch a woman hating her body, and asking us not to judge her so harshly as she judges herself:

    I used to run 5k's until I had knee surgery, four knee surgeries. Why do people make fat judgments without asking questions? There are circumstances to which I can not be held accountable.


    It's a believable attitude. The problem is, there's nothing else in here besides a dramatization of that attitude. The narrator enjoys her swim - "I really do feel weightless. Nice! I think" - but she still feels self-conscious, and when she has run back to get changed,

    I get dressed as quickly as possible. I don't want to be seen. I hope someday I will see myself for who I am, not just my weight. Someday, I think I will. I study the gangly, long-limbed women as they smile uncomfortably at each other. They act the way I used to act, their eyes saying to one another, if I ever get that big, shoot me.

    Good for her. But is it a story?
    Torgo, 5:58 pm

    1 Comments:

    Torgo,

    Thank you for the review! Yes, a stream of consciousness it is, and I appreciate the honesty in which you view this piece of writing. There seems to be quite a bit of work yet to do.

    Thank you for the comments!!
    jess
    Blogger J. L. Miller, at 7:43 pm  

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